It Is Happening Again: Twin Peaks Season Two (Part 1)

In my previous post about Twin Peaks, I remarked that the passage of time sometimes has the effect of reflecting the past through the flattering lens of nostalgia, but that Twin Peaks has remained a genuine curio of delights. In a similar manner, the passage of time also allows certain opinions to become widely accepted without much questioning. For instance, it is often said that whilst season one of Twin Peaks was a wildly original and entertaining series, the second season with the departure of David Lynch from day to day production and the revelation of Laura Palmer’s killer, was a pale imitation of the first. This is only true in part – indeed, it really applies to the _second half_ of season two. In retrospect, you can draw a clear line halfway through season two as a result.

Spoilers ahoy

For me, the first nine or so episodes of the second season stand shoulder to shoulder with season one, and indeed, contain some of the strongest and most memorable moments of the entire show. Although Twin Peaks exists as two seasons, one with a pilot and 8 episodes, and the other with 22, you can almost divide the show dead evenly into two ‘seasons’, one with the pilot and 15 episodes, the other with 14. This division aligns almost exactly with the revelation that the killer was Leland Palmer and his subsequent death, and David Lynch’s hands-on connection with the show (until the finale). This more accurately accommodates the traditional criticisms made of the show as stated earlier.

A look at the problems that exist in the latter half of season two can be dealt with in another post, but I think it is important to ‘rescue’ season two from these blanket discriminations. Lynch directed 3 of these opening 9 episodes (where he had only directed 2 of season one, including the pilot) and a re-viewing confirms that the show really is at its best when he was at the helm. (Incidentally in the excellent “Lynch on Lynch” he confirms that for the first half of the series’ life he was involved heavily in post production of all episodes and could ‘fix’ things that went wrong under others direction).

Indeed, season two contains what, for me, is easily up there with the finest 15 or so minutes of film David Lynch has ever created. The actual revelation (to the audience) of the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer, via the brutal murder of Maddie Fergus by Laura’s father, Leland, is a stunning, shocking and devastating sequence.

It is happening again.

The sequence begins ominously, with several shots of the Palmer house, followed by Sarah Palmer crawling down the stairs, moaning. A trademark Lynchian drone plays on the soundtrack accompanied by the persistent clicking of a record player that has finished the record.

In the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, Cooper and Harry arrive back to be greeted by the Log Lady, who informs them that something is going to happen and that “there are owls in the Road House”. Cooper remarks “something is happening”.

This becomes a master class in heightening tension. Leland Palmer is revealed as the killer and unholy howls from Bob, Maddie screaming in fear and the clicking of the record player fill the air as the young woman is chased to her death in the living room and beaten brutally. As terrifying a vision as Lynch has ever given us.

At the Road House, Cooper, the Log Lady and Harry take a seat and watch a woman and her band perform a strange, melancholy song. As Cooper watches, the band, disappears and the Giant appears and says “It is happening again”.

Maddie dies, and the Giant vanishes. The band reappear and continue to play. Suddenly, a wave of grief passes over the Road House. Apropos of nothing, some of the patrons begin to cry, including Bobby Briggs (an ad hoc moment Lynch devised on the spot) and Donna Heyward. Cooper contemplates what he has just seen.

If the reveal of Laura Palmer’s killer was forced prematurely by the network, then at least it was done with such striking and unforgettable means. The juxtaposition of such brutal violence and horror with a scene of overwhelming grief and beauty typify much of what Twin Peaks was.

Leland would give us one more definitive scene, in the next episode, with his emotional confession and death in Coopers arms, as he is freed from Bob’s grip, acting as a fitting end to his story. Indeed, in a similar fashion to how the finale of season three of the ‘The Wire’ feels like an ending, this poignant moment closes the book on the unofficial ‘season one’ of Twin Peaks.

We’ll conclude soon with a look at how the show finally ended.